Review: The Swan, National Theatre

Second up in Double Feature 1 is DC Moore’s The Swan. Set in a South London pub, much as his brilliant one-man show Honest was, the scene is the morning of a funeral and preparations are being made for the wake in this rundown establishment.

At the centre of everything is Jim, a bombastic performance from Trevor Cooper and blessed with some brilliantly inventive swearing, who claims to have been practically born in the pub where his mother was a singer and where he has ruled the roost ever since. Slowly but surely, more people arrive and the picture comes into focus as we come to realise exactly who the funeral was for and what his connection was to each of the characters.

The deceased was no saint and so the day of the funeral is less about mourning and more about the piecing back together of lives that have been stifled by lies, alcoholism and deep betrayals. Over the scotch eggs, sausage rolls and Caribbean patties, truths that have long festered are aired and long-held assumptions are shattered as this extended family deal with the fallout in their changed world.

Moore has a great ear for naturalistic dialogue, the rhythms of everyday speech, the difficulties many of us have in fully articulating complex emotions. And his characterisations reflect a similar strength in dramatising the normal, creating an empathetic figure out of the man who comes in to just escape his wife, played excellently by Richard Hope, and forming two great comic characters out of the dippy Bradwell mooning after his acerbic girlfriend Amy, a toxic delight from Claire-Louise Cordwell.

As the family members at the heart of this play about the true value of absolute honesty, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Pippa Bennett-Warner both play well off Cooper to cut through the grandstanding to edge closer to the truth before decisions have to be made about what is the ‘right’ thing to do. (It is interesting to note that Bennett-Warner is the only actor from DF1 who doesn’t appear in DF2, it’s a shame she couldn’t have been worked into There Is A War for the completeness of it all.) A cracking piece of writing, both amusing and touching and altogether human.

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